Playing the percentages

Tennessee projects to have a potent air attack this fall but the passing stats from three August scrimmages were a bit underwhelming.

First-team quarterback Tyler Bray completed 50 percent of his attempts (10 of 20) in the final tuneup, marking the only time any of the Vols' top three passers accomplished that feat during the preseason. Bray was 13 of 29 in the first scrimmage and 12 of 26 in the second. His totals for the three scrimmages show 35 completions in 74 attempts, a 47.3-percent success rate.

Senior backup Matt Simms went 3 of 12, 6 of 13 and 3 of 8 in the three scrimmages. His cumulative stat line shows 12 completions in 33 attempts, a 36.4-percent success rate. Freshman Justin Worley fell one completion shy of 50 percent in each of the scrimmages, going 7 of 16, 3 of 8 and 3 of 8, again. He finished a combined 13 of 32, which yields a 40.6 completion percentage.

These numbers pale in comparison to the completion rates of some recent Vol quarterbacks. Casey Clausen connected on 62.4 percent as a freshman, 64.1 percent as a sophomore and 62.6 percent as a junior before slipping to 56.6 percent as a senior in 2003. Erik Ainge completed a school-record 67.0 percent of his passes as a junior in 2006 and followed with a 62.9 percentage in 2007.

Maybe the 2011 passing attack is on the verge of meshing. Or maybe the Vols have superior coverage men in their secondary. Or maybe the unimpressive completion percentages are simply no big deal. They certainly aren't causing offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to lose any sleep. Asked following Tuesday's practice if the numbers concern him, he smiled and shook his head.

"No," he said. "You keep right on building. You go to the next practice and keep working. I'm not worried about that. Sure, you want to go out there and complete 80 percent but if I was in Coach (Derek) Dooley's shoes, I'd be a little worried about that one, too."

Asked how he evaluates the efficiency of his passing game, Chaney smiled again.

"You guys (media) quantify all of the numbers," he said. "I look and say, 'That's wrong. This is wrong. Let's go correct the mistakes.' Right now that's where we're at: We're trying to correct mistakes all the time."

Bray completed 55.8 percent of his passes last fall, when he was blessed with three senior targets - wide receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, along with tight end Luke Stocker. This August he's throwing to mostly freshmen and sophomores. That could be a partial explanation for the drop in efficiency.

"His 50 percent might be because of a receiver running a wrong route; you never know," Chaney said. "There's so many things that go into that. To try to quantify things - to say this is where we're at and this is a problem - it's too early to say that."

Bray started the final five games of 2010, compiling a 4-1 record and a strong 142.73 passer-efficiency rating. Still, he is only a true sophomore and very much a work in progress.

"I'm just looking for growth and development," Chaney said. "I think he's on pace and he's doing that."

The coordinator is smiling now but he admits that he was concerned with his QB prior to last Saturday's dress rehearsal.

"Going into the last scrimmage I thought we were struggling a little bit," Chaney said. "I thought Tyler played better in the last scrimmage and I think he's played a little better (in practice) the last two days. I'm seeing some steps being made, so that's a good thing.

"I feel better now than I did. If you'd asked me that question Friday prior to the scrimmage I had some concerns. But I think he prepared well and did a nice job."

Bray averaged 12.6 yards per completion in scrimmages this August, down two-plus yards from the 14.8 mark he compiled in 2010. Simms checked in at 12.25 yards per completion this August, roughly matching his 12.9 average of last fall. Worley averaged 9.1 yards per pass completion this preseason.

For those who consider yards per attempt a more significant stat than yards per completion — and head man Derek Dooley reportedly fits this category — Bray averaged 5.96 yards per attempt this preseason, down from 8.25 per attempt last season. Simms averaged 4.45 per attempt this August, down from 7.49 per attempt last season. Worley averaged 3.8 yards per attempt.

On a positive note, Bray threw four TD passes and just one interception in the three preseason scrimmages.

"That's our No. 1 goal going into every game — not to turn the ball over," Chaney said. "I've been pleased with that."

The fact Bray threw just one pick in 74 scrimmage attempts suggests he is making better decisions and taking fewer gambles.

"I think so," Chaney said. "You can't say he threw five interceptions and it's all decision-making and when he doesn't throw any say that it has nothing to do with decision-making. That would be hypocritical, so I do think it has something to do with his decision-making."

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